Treatment for Arrythmias and Heart Failure
Professionals at the Heart Rhythm Center provide advanced treatment for arrhythmias and heart failure. Below, we offer definitions of the conditions we address most often. Select an arrow to be directed to the corresponding description.
For more information, our experts recommend resources from the Heart Rhythm Society. Link directly to these resources using the buttons labeled HRS.
Atrial Fibrillation (A Fib or AF) – A Fib originates in the heart’s upper chambers, the atria. The heartbeat is irregular and rapid, sometimes beating as much as 300 times per minute. The condition is very common and not life threatening. However, it can lead to other rhythm problems, chronic fatigue and congestive heart failure. Stroke risk is five times higher in patients with A Fib.
Atrial Flutter (AFL) – Atrial flutter originates in the heart’s upper chambers, the atria. The heartbeat is steady, but very fast, about 300 times per minute.
Sick Sinus Syndrome (SSS) – SSS is not a specific disease. It is a group of signs or symptoms that indicate that the sinoatrial node, the heart’s natural electrical pacemaker, is not working properly. The heart rate can alternate between a slow rate (bradycardia) and fast rate (tachycardia). The condition may be treated with a permanent pacemaker, sometimes in combination with medication.
Sinus Tachycardia – This is a normal increase in heart rate. It may be related to exercise, excitement or fever. Treatment is rarely required. Occasionally, this fast heart rate is cause by an underlying disease, such as anemia or hyperthyroidism. In such cases, treating the disease will resolve the tachycardia problem.
Ventricular Tachycardia (VT) – VT is a very fast heart rate that originates in the heart’s lower chambers, the ventricles. It is usually accompanied by other serious heart disease, although it can occur in people with normal hearts. It requires prompt treatment with medication, radiofrequency ablation or implantation of a defibrillator. It can lead to ventricular fibrillation, so it requires aggressive treatment and monitoring.
Ventricular Fibrillation (VF) – Ventricular fibrillation is a rapid and chaotic heartbeat that causes the heart’s lower chambers, the ventricles, to spasm. It can begin quickly and without warning. It stops all heart function and can lead to sudden cardiac death, also known as cardiac arrest. CPR offers some benefit, but the only effective treatment is defibrillation, which uses paddles or electrodes to shock the heart back to normal rhythm. Without treatment, a patient will lose consciousness in seconds and die within minutes.
Known as heart block, atrioventricular block and AV block. These are general terms for a delay or interruption of electrical impulses anywhere along their normal path throughout the heart. Forms of heart block include.
First-degree Heart Block – Electrical impulses generated in the atria are slowed as they travel through the atria and atrioventricular (AV) node.
Second-degree Heart Block – Impulses moving through the atria are delayed at the AV node. As a result, the ventricles don’t beat at the right moment.
Third-degree Heart Block –Impulses generated in the atria are completely blocked from reaching the ventricles. To compensate, the ventricles use their "backup" pacemaker, which has a slower rate. This condition can cause severe dizziness or fainting and may be accompanied by convulsions. It is a very serious disease that can lead to heart failure or death. Also known as Stokes-Adams disease.
Bundle Branch Block - As electrical impulses travel from the atria to the ventricles, they pass through a right bundle and a left bundle. Normally, impulses travel through both bundles at the same rate, allowing both ventricles to contract at the same time. In this condition, one branch is blocked. Impulses traveling on the effected side must take a detour, so they take longer to reach the ventricle than impulses on the healthy side. This condition requires regular physician monitoring.
Stokes-Adams Disease – See third-degree heart block.
Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome – An extra electrical pathway connects the atria and ventricles. Electrical signals arrive at the ventricles too soon and are inappropriately transmitted back into the atria. As the electrical signal alternates between the atria and ventricles, a very fast heart rate can develop.
Other Heart Rhythm Disorders
Premature Contractions – Extra, early or "skipped" heartbeats are the most common type of arrhythmia. They can occur in the upper or lower chambers of the heart and are typically harmless.
Long QT Syndrome (LQTS) – This disorder of the heart’s electrical system can be inherited or caused by certain medications. It can lead to ventricular fibrillation, a deadly arrhythmia.
Syncope – Commonly referred to as fainting, syncope is simply a temporary loss of consciousness. It is usually related to temporary insufficient blood flow to the brain. It may be caused by pooling of blood in the legs after a sudden change in body position, emotional stress or heavy sweating. It can also be caused by a variety of heart and lung disorders. A physician should evaluate individuals who experience fainting spells.
Bradycardia – Bradycardia is an abnormally slow heart rate, typically below 60 beats per minute. It can be relatively harmless. Normal changes in heart rate occur due to variations in activity, diet, medication, age, sleep or superior physical conditioning. However, if the heart rate slows for no apparent reason, it may be a sign of a life-threatening problem. When the heart beats too slowly, it may not pump enough oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest – Cardiac arrest is a sudden loss of heart function. Victims lose consciousness, stop breathing, and lose pulse and blood pressure. Defibrillation is required to shock the heart back to a normal rhythm, but CPR can keep blood flowing to the heart and brain while emergency personnel are in transit. Without treatment, death occurs within minutes.
Congestive Heart Failure (Heart Failure) – A condition in which the heart is not strong enough to pump all of the blood returning to it from the rest of the body. It causes a back-up of blood in the blood vessels and an accumulation of fluid in the body’s tissues. It can result in shortness of breath and fatigue. It is a serious problem that requires medical and lifestyle management.
For more information, contact the Heart Rhythm Center at 812/450-7547.